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Visit of Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Pakistan to Taxila

Islamabad, December 29, 2023, The Europe Today: On Monday, 25th December 2023, Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah, Managing Director Elaan Research Centre, hosted His Excellency, Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Pakistan, in Zaildar House Taxila. He had also served as Sri Lankan Naval Chief, and Chief of Defence Staff in the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

During his visit, Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah guided H.E. Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne, on a tour of the ancient city of Taxila, showcasing its historical significance and highlighted the exquisite, Taxila Museum, Dharmarajika complex, and Gandhara Art Village, which are considered a true treasure of the region.

Taxila is an archaeological treasure trove, encompassing a Mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of four ancient settlements, Buddhist monastic complexes, along with a Muslim mosque and madrassa. Positioned strategically along a branch of the Silk Road that connected China with the Western world, Taxila experienced its zenith between the 1st and 5th centuries CE, solidifying its status as one of Asia’s most paramount archaeological sites. The combined archaeological sites of Saraikala, Dharmarajika, Bhir, Sirkap, and Sirsukh hold profound significance in tracing the development of urban centers in the Indian subcontinent.

During their visit, Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah and Mr. Anjum Dara, Deputy Director Taxila museum, welcomed him at the Taxila museum—a repository teeming with the wealth of history and culture. Mr. Anjum Dara, gave briefing about the history and importance of Taxila museum. This museum proudly houses a remarkable assortment of artifacts and exhibitions that provide a captivating window into Taxila’s bygone eras and its pivotal role as a hub for education and culture. The museum stands as an enduring testament to Taxila’s legacy and its profound influence on the history and culture of the region.

The museum stands out for its comprehensive assortment of Gandhara art, covering the period from the 1st to the 7th centuries AD, predominantly sourced from the ancient Taxila ruins. Noteworthy are the well-preserved ancient stupas and historical landmarks in the immediate vicinity, providing visitors with an opportunity to delve into the rich cultural heritage. The Sri Lankan High Commissioner expressed deep admiration for the diverse range of artifacts and their meticulous conservation during the visit.

The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka, accompanied by Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah, later explored the Dharmarajika Stupa, the ancient and expansive Buddhist complex. Situated on the eastern route along the Tamra stream, south of Hathial, and approximately three kilometers from Taxila Museum, this stupa holds significance as it was constructed over the sacred relics of Gautama Buddha, often referred to as the true Dharmaraja.

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The Dharmarajika Stupa is designed as a circular structure with an elevated terrace encircling its base. Surrounding the central stupa, there is a ring of small chapels. The diverse masonry styles observed in the structures surrounding the main stupa indicate contributions from different time periods. Within one of the chapels, a silver scroll inscription in Kharoshti and a small gold casket containing Buddha’s bone relics were discovered. The inscription mentions the enshrinement of the relics by a Bactrian named Ursaka from the town of Noacha in the year 136 BCE, dedicated for the well-being of “the great King, Supreme King of Kings, the Kushana” (likely referring to Vima Kadphises, the son of the Kushan conqueror Kujala). Additionally, the site housed several statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas.

Following this, their schedule included a visit to Gandhara Art Village, which opened its doors in the early months of 2023. On arrival of H.E. Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne at Gandara art village, Mr. Rafique Butt, incharge Gandhara Art Village welcomed the honourable guest and brief about the art village. This art village serves as a vibrant embodiment of Taxila’s rich culture and the extraordinary craftsmanship that characterizes the city. Within its premises, visitors can be captivated by the exquisite handcrafted jewellery and pottery items, meticulously crafted from marble and stone.

The Gandhara Art Village is a diverse establishment, encompassing workshops where these artistic masterpieces are brought to life. It also houses a modest medical clinic, addressing the healthcare needs of the local community. Additionally, there are accommodations in the form of hostels catering to travellers, and a dedicated gallery where these unique creations are prominently displayed for the delight of tourists. Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah articulated the gallery’s purpose as “celebrating and advocating for the city’s skilled artisans and their craft”.

At the conclusion of their journey, the delegation received an invitation from Zaildar Zaheer Shah, member advisory board reimaging Gandhara, to join him and his family for lunch at the Zaildar house. During lunch, a substantive conversation emerged, delving into subjects of history, culture, and art, involving the Sri Lankan High Commissioner and the Mr. Zaildar Zaheer Shah. In their discussion, Mr. Zaildar Zaheer Shah expressed his profound pride in being an ambassador for Gandhara on the global stage and conveyed his immense satisfaction in welcoming the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Taxila.

Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah expressed his gratitude to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner for his gracious acceptance of the invitation and for sparing time to visit. He mentioned that H.E. Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne, actively contributed to enhancing the military ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka during his tenure as Naval Chief and Chief of Defence Staff of Sri Lanka. Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah expressed optimism that, in his role as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Pakistan, H.E. Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne, will strive to further strengthen and solidify the relations between the two nations, fostering a more robust and enduring partnership.

The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka H.E. Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne, expressed gratitude to the Zaildar family for extending a gracious invitation to Taxila and for their warm hospitality during a delightful lunch. He found the city’s vibrant cultural heritage to be pleasantly surprising and was deeply impressed by the Gandhara Art Village initiative.

Recognizing the Gandhara art village as an invaluable asset to the city, he committed to using his influence to promote and support it. Emphasizing the enduring and close relationship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he commended the efforts of Mr. Zaildar Ahsan Shah in dedicating himself to fostering and strengthening this bond. Drawing parallels between Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s rich cultural and historical treasures, he underscored the importance of close collaboration between the two nations in preserving their shared history and artistic heritage. He said that Buddhism holds significant importance for Sri Lankans, influencing various aspects of the country’s culture and history. H.E praised the efforts of Government of Pakistan and people of Taxila on preserving the ancient Buddhist civilization.